Review: Born Wicked - Jessica Spotswood

Imagine you are wearing sensible shoes and trying to hide your very nature while your sisters care more about flowers and fashion than their secrets...

Cate and her sisters are Witches, abhorred by the Brotherhood, and hiding in a shallow closet, the last thing they need is a member of the Sisterhood teaching them how to mingle in society with the nice girls.

So, here’s the deal, in this alternate historical, a long time ago Witches came to the new world and created a nation which had them in power and welcomed immigrants from all over the world. At some point, a sect of patriarchal Christians saw evil in these Witches and set, in their mind, the world to right. Taking control from women, abolishing witchcraft and punishing any who continued to practice.

This is the world that Cate, and her two sisters, Maura and Tess, all witches, are left in when their mother dies. Their father, intelligent as he is, cannot help them. A meddling neighbor has finally forced them out into the small, close-knit community by recommending a member of the Sisterhood to teach them the niceties of society. They are, after all, well-to-do and each a good catch. As you can imagine, this is the last thing Cate wants for them.

(I decided to try making notes in the book as I read, which is much more fun that I thought possible. School kids stared at me on the bus while I scribbled. I feel very bad, and I feel admired for my reckless attitude!)

It was wonderful to see the horrible positions that Cate managed to extricate herself from, while retaining the horror of her actions. I liked Cate, until Spotswood threw in some competitiveness between the girls. Why do they need to be like that? Goodness. I mean, she’s really cool until she starts shaming other girls for being pretty. With growth Cate may become a favorite heroine, joining ranks with Jane Eyre and Penelope Lumley. Only the sequel will tell.

I liked all the specifications of flowers, but the note about ‘gaudy’ rose motif in the milliner’s shop really doesn’t jive with me. She keeps putting down Maura’s interest in fashion and society. Cate! Don’t you know its okay to want to be pretty? She reminds me of me, and I can only think of the impression a character like Cate might make on a reader of 12 or so, who wants to feel better about not caring about being pretty, seeing pretty girls as being frivolous and lesser. It also seemed that Cate is a bit too self-aware. Reading faster helped a little, but this book is not without it’s rough spots. The ending was wonderfully tight and fast-paced in comparison to the rest, I suspected where it was headed, but my heart pounded none-the-less.

There is so much that I don't know how to say about this book because my thoughts were more jumbled than usual (and it took me more than 6 months to write this - never again) and I couldn't find a way to write about all the things: the love triangle, the experiences of women in the ships and institutes and the wonderful, wonderful twists. I would like to refer you, in my inability to write more without spoiling the whole damn book, to Khanh's review on her blog. I should note that I wish I reviewed books the way Khanh does, fearlessly and with brutal honesty. I should also warn you that she does curse in her reviews.

The sequel was on my night table but it took so long for me to get to it that the library in question sent me threatening letters before I could crack it open. Oops.

352pp. Speak. 7 Feb. 2012.